When planning your research project it is important to keep in mind your objectives and the information you are seeking to inform your decision making. These objectives should also influence how you implement your research. In this blog we introduce the elements you will need to discuss with your chosen research partner when structuring your research, providing an introduction to the terminology used.
At the beginning of any research project it is important to spend time defining your information requirements.
1 – Research brief
When establishing your research project it is important to compile a briefing document of your requirements. The key element in this document should define your information requirements, what you are wanting to learn as a result of the research and your objectives for the research, how you will use this information to inform your business decisions. A great brief possesses clarity, displays depth of thought, and provides direction. Delivering a comprehensive brief is a great starting point but remember to be open to suggestions, to get the best of the researcher’s knowledge and experience.
Once you know your information requirements it is important to define your research approach.
Broadly speaking research falls into 3 categories. There is exploratory research, conclusive research and desk research. It is important to discuss the options with your chosen research partner, to make sure you chose the right approach or combination for your research objectives.
2 – Exploratory research
Exploratory research uses less structured methods to develop hypotheses or understand a problem in detail. Techniques could include focus groups or in-depth interviews with key influencers.
This type of research will have an emphasis on qualitative data as focus groups, interviews, and open-ended questions are all forms of qualitative research. This type of research cannot be easily quantified or analysed quantitatively.
Exploratory research can be used to clarify the exact problem at hand, to inform more structured, conclusive research. It can also be used following a research project to explore specific findings in greater detail.
3 – Conclusive research
Conclusive research uses structured techniques, such as surveys, to collect data. The aim of conclusive research is to prove or disprove hypotheses, to indeed draw conclusions that can directly inform business strategy. Data is collected to provide facts. This technique often uses carefully structured questionnaires, with an emphasis on closed questions, to provide data which can be analysed.
Conclusive research can cover the basic, who, what, when, where and how questions or can aim to provide detailed statistical analysis of consumer attitudes, behaviour and/or performance, product acceptance or influences on selection. Conclusive research is predominately quantitative in nature, and can be used to substantiate findings from the qualitative research conducted during exploratory research.
It is common that both exploratory and conclusive research techniques are used on the same project, to provide qualitative and quantitative findings.
4 – Secondary or Desk research
Often you can source information about the market place from reports available in the public domain, free or to purchase. These can include industry forecasts, government reports, briefings, magazine articles and papers presented at conferences. This is a good, cost effective, starting point for a research project. However it does require an expertise to know where to look and to then interpret the reports and identify key information.
This secondary data can be used to clarify research objectives and inform research questions gathering first hand evidence. It can inform the methodology of your research, whether you use focus groups to explore further or whether you conduct a survey to get more conclusive information.
This element can be integrated into your project at the beginning or indeed the end of a project, and findings can be included in the overall report, to provide further context and depth to research findings. Your research partner will be able to provide guidance on how to use desk research to enhance your project.
When establishing your research project it is important to discuss the elements that define how the project will be executed.
5 – Demographic target
When establishing your research project it is important to give clear guidance on the demographic target. This is the group you are seeking to survey. This target can be defined by customer category, job role, market sector, project type etc. This group, defined by the same demographic characteristics, can also be known as a cohort.
This classification information should reflect your overall target. Within this target you can then segment into subsets by common attributes, such as company category, geographic location etc. if your research objectives require.
Once you have clearly defined your demographic target it is important to agree the sample size.
6 – Sample size
In market research, the purpose of selecting a sample, rather than the whole of your target audience or target population, is to make the process more manageable and to reduce cost.
When determining a sample size it is important it represents the whole of your target population. Within the sample, you may want to include several demographic subsets or quotas. Careful consideration should be given to the selection criteria, so that you create a representative sample. The size of the sample also needs to be sufficiently large to avoid any bias in the results. Your chosen research partner will have expertise in this area and be able to provide guidance.
7 – Methodology
This is the method used to collect responses, for example via an online survey, telephone interviews, face to face interviews, desk research, either singly or in combination. It is important that the procedure used can be replicated and the stages should be recorded accurately, so when repeated it yields comparable results.
The methods used could represent either an exploratory or conclusive research approach, or indeed a combination of these. Your research partner will be able to bring their experience to planning the methodology, recommending the right method to get the best information to inform your decision making.
8 – Questionnaire
Once you have mapped out your research requirements in terms of research approach, demographic target, sample size and methodology, the next step is to craft your questions. The methodology you have chosen will consequently shape the questionnaire style. Your research partner will have the expertise to ensure the correct techniques are used, that open and closed questions are used in the correct manner and that you are not tempting bias in your responses.
Questionnaires should be carefully worded so that the necessary information is collected to fulfil your objectives. The order and structure of questions is also important. For example, the questions at the beginning should be interesting, simple and non-threatening to gain the confidence of the respondent.
9 – Pre-test
Prior to launching your research it is best practice to carry out a trial. The pre-test, carried out on a small group of respondents, is to assess project logistics and to refine the actual research for improved accuracy and efficiency. Testing your research questionnaire helps identify any unforeseen problems such as the wording or flow of the questions. As part of this step an in-depth conversation with interviewers can also provide additional insights for refining the final questionnaire.
Once the survey element of the research has been executed it is then time to analyse the raw data.
This analysis should be clearly presented and interpret findings to align with the research objectives, providing learning outcomes and strategic recommendations.
10 – Validation/Back Checking
Another form of testing is the validation of data. Validation or back checking is conducted once all data has been gathered for your sample quota of responses. This is where a few select respondents are contacted and questioned about the interview and the interviewer. This process authenticates the collected data.
11 – Analysis
Once your survey is complete interpreting the raw data through analysis is a key step. Insight drawn from research findings can have dramatic impact on business strategy. When interpreting findings remember it is not only the high level information that is important. Including secondary statistics can offer context and background, providing further understanding to the answers gathered. Including qualitative as well as quantitative findings can also help. Drawing conclusions from each question is important, prompting a list of learning outcomes and recommendations. Your chosen research agency should be able to assist you with this process. Competitive Advantage spends a significant proportion of each research project interpreting the findings.
12 – Debrief
From the analysis your research partner should provide a report, highlighting key findings, providing conclusions and hypotheses. It is acceptable to agree a presentation of research findings, known as a debrief. From the debrief you should be able to match the findings to your research objectives, and take the information to inform your decision making. If you have chosen a research partner that truly understands your industry sector they will be able to add value to this step by providing recommendations for your future business strategy.